Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Like the new look?

What do you think? 

My new header is curtsey Thierry De Wolf (isn't that an awesome name?) and his magical artistic skills; that man has hands blessed by the devil and his mind works like a well oiled art-creating machine. You should definitely check his site out for more scrumptious pieces like the one you see before you.

So, please let me know if you like it! Is it too white? Does it all "work"?

I'm feeling minimalist at the moment and wanted to remove a lot of the clutter. I might tweak bits here and there over the next couple of days so that it looks juuuuust right. But at the moment I'm hugely happy with the new header and pleased with the new layout.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

[GW2] Could GW2 be the first MMO with a Real YouTube Presence?

Games nowadays have to be able to extend beyond the client. Most developers recognise that a good game is built on solid story, decent gameplay and compelling characters. But a great game bleeds out of the game world and into ours. Now, I've already discussed a number of ways this can happen in a previous post, so I won't be reiterating too many points which I covered back then, however, I will emphasise the importance of one particular medium which a number of top-flight games have failed to break: YouTube.

The popularity of YouTube videos has boosted bedroom gamers from teenagers with a hobby to fully formed businessmen. YouTube made celebrities of Call of Duty players and has blasted games such as Minecraft, Amnesia and Terraria from underground indie classics to big-buck moneymaking machines.

MMOs don't traditionally do hugely well on YouTube (at least not when compared to CoD, FIFA, Minecraft and Starcraft) this is probably the case for a number of reasons. It's difficult to distil the MMO experience down into 10 minutes of recordable gametime (which is often the limit for the average YouTube video). FPSs have games which average about 6-10 minutes at a time and so provide nice bite-sized pieces of gameplay which are fast-paced and entertaining from pretty much start to finish. They are almost designed for YouTube. Additionally, MMOs often have UIs and game mechanics which are difficult to understand unless you are a player of the game itself and can interpret what is going on. If I were to dive into an Alliance Battle and film my gameplay of course any Guild Wars player could see me kiting, crippling and interrupting like a madman; but to someone who didn't know, for example, what the skill symbol for d-shot was, it would be a very confusing experience.

If Guild Wars 2 is going to crack the YouTube market they are going to need to have gameplay which can be distilled down into meaningful chunks of around 10-12 minutes. The PvP gametype Conquest looks ideal for this: it's fast paced and exciting, very visual and varied and seems to last about the right length of time. Hopefully we'll find an equivalent in PvE. The problem of the complicated UIs and gameplay mechanics is always going to be difficult; ANet can't dumb down the whole game just so that it makes sense on YouTube! There is one thing, however, which would certainly help in this matter: a community of players who are enthusiastic about producing quality videos for YouTube audiences.

If Guild Wars 2 is going to thrive in the YouTube market it is going to need players, video editors, montage makers and commentators who are passionate about getting the game to the wider audience. If we have charismatic speakers to produce quality content; exciting videos with interesting, funny and insightful commentaries then we can't go too far wrong. We, as a community, are the only ones who have the power to take the game from our own bedrooms, studies and living rooms and push it into the limelight of YouTube. We already do this to a certain extent with our blogs, interviews, fan sites and forums - but YouTube is where the real audience is and if GW2 is going to crack it, then it's up to us to make sure it happens.

What do you think? Could GW2, or even an MMO, ever be as popular as CoD on YouTube? What needs to happen for GW2 to succeed on YouTube?

PS. Guild Wars 2 Insider is already doing a brilliant job already of bringing quality YouTube content for GW2 - keep up the good work peeps!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

An in-depth look at the Asura

...either way I believe that the axe + horn combo will be far more effective in taking down a wider variety of enemies. Imagine if you will, a battle against a foe who uses ranged attacks, sure you've got the bow, but if you switch to your axe then you can not only use it effectively at range, but also...





Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A few changes! Please note and change links!


I'm a changeable person, and like the wind I can switch directions at the drop of a hat! Hence my snap decision to flip from "verydistilled" to "Distilled Willpower".

The reasons are threefold.

1) I wanted to call the blog simply: "Distilled" but obviously that was taken - when you create your blog it gives you a list of suggestions instead, usually created by adding random words to the start or end. "Very" was one of the suggestions. As such I never really chose it properly, and never really liked it.

2) I've always wanted to acronymise the website title, but the acronym VD has... icky connotations.

3) The new name "Distilled Willpower" is sorta fantasy-esque, so goes with the MMO/Guild wars theme I'm going for. Plus my name's Will, and I HAVE THE POWER!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Portal 2: No Escape

I'm not giving you a choice.

You HAVE to watch this.

Guild Wars 2: Limiting Limited Resources

Playing an action game is all about two things: reacting to a situation and managing your resources. When you’re playing a FPS you are surveying your battlefield; you react to the opponents in front of you and manage your resources (total ammo, clip size, health etc) in order to outplay your enemy and win the game. When you’re playing an action RPG you are looking at the enemies in front of you, reacting to their skills and keeping a weather eye on your energy bar/health potions/HP bar/skill cooldowns etc.

If an action game is all about reacting to the situation it can become a bit of a slog-fest. Without the restrictions of limited resources it becomes a situation whereby you hold down whatever “trigger” button you have which fires your most powerful attack and watch as wave after wave of nasties smash against your unstoppable ep33n. This is all very well and good for some games, Serious Sam being a prime example – no one could dispute that this game is an absolute classic - but it’s hardly very challenging.

On the other hand, if a game is all about managing resources then it becomes less like playing and more like working. You are watching your UI, clicking on bars when they go red or run out, hitting the same combinations of skills over and over because it is the most efficient way to manage your energy and skill cooldown. The game becomes an administrative exercise. The Sims became this to me; my Sims would wake up in the morning, I’d rush them to the toilet, shower, breakfast, an hour of TV then to work, once at home again I’d plonk them on whatever skill item I needed them to work on until it was dinnertime, they’d cook dinner, have about 2/3 hours to themselves then straight to bed and start again tomorrow. I felt like I was working for them, not them for me.

Guild Wars 2 has already established itself as a proficient action-MMO; the combat is much more fluid and dynamic and ArenaNet have already expressed an intention to encourage the players to watch the field, not the UI. So that covers the “reacting to the battlefield” bit. However, Anet have recently done away their energy based skill system and replaced it with a “dodge bar” whereby your energy is only linked to the amount of times you can dodge and roll before the bar recharges. From what I can gather, the only restriction on the usage of skills will be cooldowns.

Now, I must be about the only person in this community not to have had hands-on experience of the game up until now so forgive me if my worries are unfounded – just dismiss it as a cynical ol’ Brit looking to complain. But I worry that cooldowns won’t be enough to stop the game (and particularly PvP) become a button-mashing bonanza. Anet have removed one of the archetypal limited resources from their MMO and, whilst I’ve not raised an eyebrow to their smashing of archetypes in the past, this one could be difficult to balance.

Guild Wars 1 PvP is as much about the rising and falling of energy bars as it is about health bars. If you push your team too far and over extend yourself, you might not die, but the long-term impact on the energy pool of your healers, after they pushed themselves to get heals on you, can lead to problems further down the line (particularly if they find themselves counter-pressured by enemy midliners). Every action you undertake has an impact on the long term resources of your whole team. For example, if you are a warrior and push up to take down an enemy monk, that could mean your opponent’s front line has to back off to compensate for the reduced healing, this would in turn allow for your own healers to take a breather as the pressure on them eased.

Without energy as a long term team resource, PvP could turn into a war of attrition whereby you don’t have enough damage to overwhelm a team with significant healing capabilities, but they don’t have enough firepower to take you down either. No matter how hard you push, they will still be able to release their heal skill on recharge and push back just as hard. Instead of having to carefully choose when to use a skill, we could get into a situation where not hitting the skill on recharge could be fatal and PvP matches become frantic gangbangs of whirling particles and shattered dreams.

Anet will have to be extremely careful when tweaking cooldowns on big hitters and when balancing skills which affect cooldowns in combat (although, I seem to remember it being mentioned in a Gamescom Q&A that there were no skills that did this; can anyone confirm?) because without energy as a limiting factor, the only thing holding back a player with a powerful skill and a short recharge is the speed of their trigger finger.

Ps. I know it must seem as if all I’ve done is complain about this game over the past couple of weeks; I apologise, I am really looking forward to it I promise! But it’s like I’m watching my child get on the bus for his first day of school – I want to hold onto him and not let him go on his own in case the other kids take the piss and stamp on his SpongeBob lunchbox. I know I’ve got to let him make his own mistakes, but I’ve nurtured him for 6 years and I’m hard on him because I love him. Also, if he comes back with detention he’ll get ONE HELL OF AN ASS WHOOPIN’!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Hi Mr Atus. How are you?

I'm still here, I promise! I've been holding off on blogging as, to be honest, I'm in information overload from all the Gamescon blog posts and videos and I simply don't think I'm capable of distilling (qualified in the field of distillation as I am) all of the juicy morsels of tasty wasty info into manageable pieces for you to enjoy.
Normal service will resume after PAX this weekend. WHOS EXCITED? WILL IS!

So, in the meantime, here's a picture of my dog:

Monday, 15 August 2011

Guild Wars 2: Where is the Guild in all of this?

Professions galore, race weeks, minor race articles, dynamic events, concept art, clothing, armour and weapons, dungeons, audio, lore and even a smattering of PvP. Any self respecting Guild Wars player must be asking themselves; where’s my Guild information?

Unlike things like PvP, the sylvari reveal and the final profession whose presence was felt if only through the sheer absence of information (in that it always feels like we could hear a new snippet of info at any moment); information on how Guilds are going to work seems to have completely dropped off the radar. This is a little worrying for me. ANet are usually so vocal about their intentions to revolutionise how we play MMOs. Even though we’ve heard only snippets of information about certain elements of the game (PvP springs to mind) we hear these snippets often and we are constantly reminded about how revolutionary these snippets are. If we were going to see a reimagining of the Guild system, then you’d think we would have heard a little bit more about how it is all going to work – you’d think they would have at least given us an “oh, and we’ve got something really exciting in store for Guilds and Alliances! But we can’t tell you what it is yet! Tee hee!”

In a game where the word takes up 50% of the title, I really hope that the Guild system isn’t just going to be something they plonk on the end - crudely slapped on like a backstreet face transplant. I say this because the rest of the game is like a full body work up at a top LA plastic surgery clinic; its so primped and plumped and glugged full of ass-fat and silicon that it could grace the red carpet at any awards ceremony. But no amount of muffin filled gift baskets or weepy acceptance speeches will win us over if your face looks like a bowl of day old spaghetti.

ps. Sweet Jesus that was a laboured simile.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Guild Wars 2: Sylvari Week Summary

Sylvari week has blasted onto the Guild Wars scene with a vengeance. I don't believe there has been a reveal more anticipated, and I don't believe there will be another one quite like it until the game hits the shelves. The sylvari went under a tarpaulin in the back of ANet's grand workshop a long while back, since then we've heard the whizzing of circular saws, smelt the burning scent of singed plantlife and heard the unmistakable sound of a power drill being taken to a geranium but nothing more than little snippets of info has been leaked to us. The past week has seen a cornucopia of new info on the race, and I'm here to snip it up, lay it out and stick pins in it so you can oggle in wonder:

Day 1: Kristen Perry does the BIG reveal in "Designing and Redesigning the Sylvari". This article could have been written by a blind monkey using wax crayons crudely constructed from his own earwax and we would have lapped it up like it was Tolstoy; such was the anticipation for the release of the redesign. Fortunately, it was an incredibly well written piece, and it was really interesting to hear about the great depth of thought and research that went into producing the sylvari we see today.

From the building of the torso; whereby the primary growth socket on the back sprouts the leaves which construct the shoulder, arms and other musculature and is mirrored (think the two ends of a lemon or a banana) by an opposing divot on the belly button. To the beautiful faces; where jawlines are constructed by vines and leaves and where, relatively unlimited by a human bone structure, Kristen and the design team were able to build brows out of twisting myriads of leaf and bark.

She also touched on how they designed sylvari clothing and armour in much the same way. Rather than saying "let's make a dress out of leaves" they asked "if this dress was to grow naturally, what would it look like?". So, the clothes also tend to flow out of a central "growth socket" much like where a leaf attaches to a stem, or a flower's petals are attached at the centre.
She also breifly talked about the more gnarly elements of plantlife which a sylvari might emulate. Rather than going down the summery green route, you might want to choose to go more wintry  - with bark, roots and branches being the prevailing theme in that palette.

Day 2: Angel McCoy (doesn't that sound like a TV cop name? "Dammit Angel, you're a loose cannon!") with "The Sylvari Soul". Now, there was a craptonne of information in this article and it took me a long while to read through/listen to it all - and I thoroughly enjoyed it but, a few days down the line, the thing that has really stuck with me is: FRICKEN BRITISH VOICE ACTORS! Or at least British accents. It was a brilliantly refreshing sound to hear - almost like having soft cheese gently massaged into my earholes (particularly after all I've heard over the past week has been a drunken and drug addled slurs of an angry riot mob and the pustulous rantings of angry Daily Mail readers). Thankyou ANet, I am a happy-Will.

 Day 3: Video: "Growing the Sylvari"

Day 4: The update of the sylvari GW2 page. Not a lot of new information, maybe a little on how the cycles affect the sylvari. But mostly, I was there to see the tour of The Grove (and the AMAZING Soule score that went with it which I've listened to a number of times since)

Day 5: Ree Soesby talks about the Nightmare Court in "Dream and Nightmare". Once again Ree deals with the darker side a race with her lore-post on the final day. We already know a little about the Nightmare Court, but this post really blew things wide open. We found out a little bit more about how the Nightmare Court go about their dastardly ways and I have to say, it's pretty fricken evil. Essentially, they see the teachings passed on by Ventari's tablet as a millstone around the neck of the sylvari race and they want to free their people from the moral bindings which hold the society together. They do this by committing terrible and horrific acts upon sylvari and non-sylvari alike, hoping that the memories of their evil acts will filter down to the Pale Tree and into the Dream of Dreams which each sylvari experiences as they are growing in their pods. 

Ree also covers how the cycles of day affect the sylvari, and how each sylvari is supposed to be changed by the part of the day they were born in:
Those born in the cycle of dawn are keen talkers and diplomats. Those born in the cycle of noon are skilled combatants and prefer action over talking. Those born in the cycle of dusk are thinkers, riddlers and philosophers. Finally, those born during the cycle of night are loners, secretive and silent.

As with all the final day posts, Ree weaves the story of the first of the second wave of sylvari newborns (after the "Firstborn", the first 12 sylvari to have been born from the Pale tree, there was a period where no more were born for a long time) Cadeyrn and his eventual descent into the ranks of the Nightmare Court. If the upcoming "Sea of Sorrows" Guild Wars novel is anything like the past few stories we've heard from Ree, then it will be epic on a whole new scale.

Sylvari week was the time of reckoning for a lot of GW fans. The time when we could finally judge whether the months of redesign for the race had really been worth it. I have to say: ANet talk the talk, and BOY do they walk the walk. I was on the fence between a number of races when it came to my main character. But I'm almost 100% sure that it will be a sylvari after the events of this week.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Unbe-freaking-leafable - Sylvari Week!

Hold onto your hyacinths, people; it's freaking sylvari week! Just like the other weeks, I thought I'd give you the whole branching sylvari story to pan the time between the end of Guild Wars and the start of Guild Wars 2. Also, I will be including as many plant puns as is humanly possible, so I apologise if I branch off onto irrelevant tropics - beleaf me, I'll try and keep them pruned.

The sylvari are a budding new race in the Guild Wars ecology. Their story is fairly cool in my opinion, and is worth telling from the very start:

After the end of EotN Tyria was still not a very safe place for humanity - they faced threats from the remaining White Mantle, Mursaat, Charr and the growing threats caused by the wakening of the dragons. One settlement of human exiles had sprung up in the Caledon Forest (east of Rata Sum, west of the Henge of Denravi). Ronan, a human soldier, had made this his home for himself and his family. Whilst on patrol and separated from his group, Roran came across a strange cave guarded by "terrible plant creatures" - he scooped up one of the fist-sized seeds and fled (hoping to give the seed to his daughter as a present to celebrate his return from the war). Unfortunately, upon returning home, Ronan found his family dead and the settlement ruined by a mursaat attack. In his grief, Ronan planted the seed on the graves of his family members. He swore never to return to battle.
Arbor Bay - Ventari's Sanctuary

Roran was joined by the centaur Ventari, who also shared his abhorrence for violence. Together the human and centaur built a small community around the ever-growing tree. As the tree grew, the world changed around it - krytans, fleeing violence in their own lands, clashed with centaur clans across the human kingdoms, the dragons began to emerge and allegiances and borders shifted and tore. Fewer and fewer people were willing to follow Ronan and Ventari's peaceful way of life. Eventually Ronan passed away, and before Ventari did the same he wrote his life-lessons on a tablet and placed it amongst the roots of the Pale Tree.

In his absence, the tree grew for 100 years. Eventually great cocoons began to sprout and twist away from the branches of the now massive tree - from these cocoons came the firstborn sylvari.

Dociu concept art of the Pale Tree
The sylvari almost worship the words written by Ventari on the tablets and attempt to live by the rules he passed on. Whilst in their "gestation" period the sylvari dream of the world, it is through these dreams that each sylvari learns the wisdom of their race. Ree Soesbee describes:
The Dream is a deep well, into which memory and thought are poured as each sylvari learns and experiences the world. A newborn sylvari takes memories from that well in part, not in whole; like a bowl filled with water from that lake, they see only a small fraction of their race’s collective experience. 
So, they are born with a working knowledge of the world - but are able to go out and explore and learn on their own. The sylvari are children in relative terms, the oldest of their race is only 25 when the events of GW2 occur. They bring an almost bitingly sheer look to a world filled with wholly cynical races. Their honesty is often misinterpreted as ignorance, their innocence as helplessness. They may appear to be children, but they grew from a tree grown on the site of a massacre, they bear the weight of the wisdom of a very old and very wise centaur and the passion of a shining blade warrior and their unending curiosity for the new world around them drives their race to expand like so many winding weeds.

I'm hesitant to talk too much about the sylvari culture until we learn a little bit more, that's what sylvari week i is about after all! But that's their history, at least. I'm also not going to talk about the FREAKING AWESOME SYLVARI REDESIGN here - as that's a whole other blog post altogether.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Guest Post: Do Sylvari Dream of Dragons?

I have a new post over at Talk Tyria:

I'm delving into my theories on the Nightmare Court and the role of the Pale Tree - good stuff! Get over there now!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Gaming Jargon - What on Earth did you just say?

One of the big parts of my job is rifling through doctors’ notes. If you have ever attempted this Herculean task you will know that not only are doctors’ handwriting notoriously difficult to decipher, but also the jargon they use is mind boggling.

I understand that in high pressure situations using shorthand is vital to conveying messages very quickly and as such is essential to the workings of a good doctors’ surgery or hospital. However, jargon also serves another important purpose: it keeps people out.
Having a language (written or otherwise) which can only be interpreted by a select few means that certain jobs remain specialised and cannot be farmed out to others. Of course, people who are new to the circle can learn the language but it takes time and hard work to really get fluent.

Jargon is a central theme in hardcore gaming. In fact, jargon is a central theme in gaming as a whole. If you asked a random Joe on the street what a “Next-gen F2P FPS with QuickTime event level boss scenes and a fully customisable UI and HUD” was they’d probably assume you were speaking in tongues and begin hurling holy water at you or beating you with Nile reeds.

Of course, we write “F2P” as it’s easier than writing “free to play” and “UI” as it’s faster than “user interface”. When you’re on a boss raid, or in the middle of a fire fight it’s easier to type “gank prot” than “I’d like everyone to focus their fire on the protector now”. The language of gaming is certainly a language of convenience; with phrases actually flourishing due to their ease of input into a keyboard (“lol” being the paragon of this – it’s so easy you barely have to move your chubby little digits lolololololololololololol jk). But the language of gaming is also a language of exclusion.

Imagine you’re new to gaming; if you were to play a gamebattle alongside one of the top MLG Black Ops players, you would have real trouble understanding what they are saying to you: “he’s top wood”, “two trailer, cap C”, “I’m flashed”. Similarly, if you were working your way through Hard Mode Underworld in Guild Wars you’d find a similar problem: “don’t aggro too many”, “alright, the SF sin can tank and the SH eles can DPS”, “omg mending wammo n00b!”; an all too common occurrence. It would be incredibly confusing, and until you’d taken the time to learn the phrases and experience the game you simply wouldn’t be able to participate. If you’re a bit of a veteran it comes as second nature that when you start a new game, you need to start to learn the jargon in order to be an effective team member. But to those who are just starting out, it must be a hugely daunting task.
I’m not saying it’s a language designed to exclude new players. Multiplayer online gaming is all about finding new ways to connect and interact with people. These languages develop organically and, apart from the select few, I’m sure most gamers don’t set out to develop the most confusing and obtuse language possible. What I’m saying is that veteran players must be aware of the potential barrier their language might pose when interacting with new gamers.


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